On May 14 a company which routinely bashes magnesium supplementation and sells supplements based on chelated calcium put up a piece entitled “Is magnesium contributing to eventing deaths?”. This was on the heels of the tragic passing of a UK rider in a fall on a cross-country course. I’ll skip all the pseudoscience that supposedly supported the headline and get to the punch line which was that magnesium affects the horse’s brain in a way which makes the horse anxious and clouds their judgment when on course. Wow. There is not one single shred of credible evidence, in any species, behind that claim. Fortunately, the page was taken down five days later: http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/equifeast-owner-apologises-linking-magnesium-eventing-deaths-536183
Those reasons are more than enough but also compounded by the fact it was nothing more than fear-mongering pseudoscience.
This is far from the only example. A relatively benign but still outrageously misleading one is companies enticing you to buy XYZ product (e.g. flax seed) from them because it is non-GMO, when in reality all XYZ is non-GMO anyway. Another uses non-GMO to rail against glyphosate when their product isn’t organic and will likely have trace levels of even more dangerous herbicides or pesticides. There are companies that claim the world is so polluted it requires a completely different approach to feeding and supplementation which only they can provide, or they have a non-drug cure for a disease where there are no proven nonpharmacological treatments. “Natural” dewormers. Alternatives to vaccines or antibiotics. All false and in some cases dangerous.
There are many excellent lists of characteristics you can use to identify pseudoscience. Some of the best ways are:
- Claims from a lone maverick working in isolation
- “Proprietary” unpublished research; data that no one else has seen or evaluated
- Heavy reliance on anecdotal/testimonial reports
- Any criticism or questions labeled persecution, conspiracy or close-mindedness
- Claims of unique insight, ingredients or methodology
- Instead of showing solid proof, challenges others to prove the claim is wrong – basically unproven as false = true (when the reality is unproven = unproven; nothing more and nothing less). This is known as a reverse burden of proof. In actuality, the proof of a claim should rest squarely with the person making it.
If you are considering a product or service that raises any red flags, contact them and ask to see the published studies that support their claims. If they don’t exist, ask to see the company’s own studies (not testimonials). You might even find some useful information doing an internet search for the people behind the product.
There is a new company gearing up to charge $125 for a genetic test that claims to identify a risk factor for Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy type 2 or one that makes type 1 horses more likely to show symptoms. None of this work has been published or validated while multitest genetic screens for diseases which actually have been correctly identified and proven run in the neighborhood of $50. To add insult to injury, searching for the principal person behind the company readily brings up presentations to start up groups where he refers to horse owners as “a niche market with a lot of money to burn”. Nice, huh?
Eleanor Kellon, VMD